Tag Archives: Barney Dreyfus

Ernie Diehl

18 Mar

Ernest Guy “Ernie” Diehl’s entire professional career consisted of less than 60 games.

Every year from 1900 to 1911 he was offered contracts by professional teams and despite his time with two National League teams and two minor league teams he never earned a penny as a ballplayer.

By the time the 25-year-old Diehl made his first professional appearance with the Pittsburgh Pirates in May of 1903, he was already a well-known player. Diehl was the star of the perennial powerhouse Avondale team in Cincinnati’s semi-pro Saturday League, which The Sporting Life called “a fast, clean league.”

diehl

Ernie Diehl

Diehl was born in Cincinnati in 1877, the scion of a Cincinnati distillery empire; His father Adam G. Diehl had made a fortune in the whiskey business with his brother-in-law; together they founded The Edgewood Distilling Company.

He attended the University of Cincinnati and established a reputation as one of the area’s best athletes.  Perhaps even better at tennis than baseball, Diehl was a prominent amateur tennis player during the first decade of the 20th Century.

In May of 1903 when the Pirates arrived in Cincinnati for a series, the team was decimated with injuries and Diehl joined the team for one game, playing left field on May 31, he went 1 for three in a 3-2 pirate victory.

Despite being offered a contract with Pittsburgh, Diehl chose to return to the distilling business and the Saturday Baseball League.

In 1904, with several Pirate players hurt, Diehl was again asked to join the team; this time for 12 games.  The Pittsburgh Gazette said Diehl also spent time with the Pirates in Hot Springs, Arkansas that spring.

The Baltimore American ran a story before the Pirates arrived in New York in August:

“New Yorkers who attend the games between the Brooklyn and Pittsburgh teams will be treated to an opportunity of seeing the work in the field of a millionaire ballplayer.”

While he hit just .162 for the Pirates in 1904, that did not diminish Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss’ desire to sign Diehl.

Before the 1905 season Dreyfuss told The Pittsburgh Press:

“The one player I would like to get on the team is beyond my reach… His name is Ernest Diehl…He is one of the best baseball players I ever saw.”

Dreyfuss also called Diehl “One of the best all-around athletes,” he had seen.  The Press said that although Diehl was required to sign a contract for his time with the Pirates in 1903 and ’04:

“Diehl never received a penny of salary from President Dreyfuss.”

Barney Dreyfuss

Barney Dreyfuss

Dreyfuss, and every other owner who offered Diehl a contract was unsuccessful in securing him for the 1905 season; Diehl spent the season playing in the Saturday League and in several tennis tournaments across the country.

He again played tennis and semi-pro ball in 1906, until August when the Boston Beaneaters came to Cincinnati. Shortstop Al Bridwell was injured, and Diehl was signed (again for no salary) to play for Boston in the three-game series.

The Associated Press reported:

“’Ernie’ Diehl, a wealthy young distiller of this city, an enthusiastic athlete, long known as a brilliant baseball player on local amateur teams, distinguished himself in the series just played…He played three games in the Boston ranks…He made five hits in eleven times at bat…Diehl could not afford to enter professional ball if he desired, at the highest salary paid in the organization, on account of his business, but is delighted and satisfied with his experience…Besides his heavy batting, his fielding was strictly up to the professional standard.”

Just as he had in Pittsburgh, Diehl turned down an offer to stay with Boston for the remainder of the 1906 season.

In 1907, Diehl appeared in 21 games for the Toledo Mud Hens in the American Association, hitting .405.  The Toledo News-Bee said Diehl was spending “His vacation…helping out the Toledo club.”  The Associated Press said that as in the past, “Diehl is wealthy and refused to accept pay for his services.”

In addition to his business interests, amateur tennis and baseball career, and professional baseball “vacations,” Diehl also served on Cincinnati’s city council from, roughly, 1906-1910.

In 1909 Diehl played in one game of a doubleheader for the Boston Doves on August 12 against the Reds, he was 2 for 4 with a double—it would be his last in the National League

Diehl then joined the eventual American Association champion Louisville Colonels, at the request of his friend and fellow Cincinnatian, manager Heinie Peitz.  (Baseball Reference lists a player as “Diehl,” with no first name on the 1909 Louisville roster, with a .226 average in 20 games).

The Sporting Life said Diehl “figured very prominently in Louisville’s winning the championship of the A.A. will again be in Colonel garb,” in 1910; Diehl did not play for Louisville, or any other professional team again.

In 1911 The Associated Press and Cincinnati newspapers said the 33-year-old Diehl had a deal in place with Reds manager Clark Griffith to join the team at some point during the season; as with Louisville, that deal never materialized either.

Diehl was briefly mentioned as a candidate to replace Griffith as Reds manager in 1912, the job eventually went to Hank O’Day.

Diehl’s career was summed up well in a 1914 Baseball Magazine article by William A.  Phelon:

“For ten years it has been a tacitly accepted fact, around the big leagues and whenever players or managers assembled, that Ernie Diehl was not only of major league quality, but what might be called super-quality—the Wagner-Lajoie-Cobb variety.  He could hit, run, and break up a defense with anybody, and was a versatile artist in five or six positions.  Business held him; there never was a chance for him to spend a full season in the game; year after year, in short vacation frolics, he showed the professionals what he could do—and now, getting on in years, with business still gripping him, he sadly gives it up, and lays aside the bat and glove he never had a fair chance to use.”

Diehl’s Edgewood Distilling Company seems to have been dissolved sometime around 1918, and he eventually settled in Miami where he died in 1958.

“Bill Abstein Denies he is a Bonehead”

20 Feb

Pittsburgh Pirate owner Barney Dreyfuss and manager Fred Clarke felt all they needed to win a World Series was a first baseman.  Since winning the National League Pennant with Kitty Bransfield in 1903, only one Pirate first baseman hit better than .260 (Del Howard .292 in 1905).

In 1908 the Pirates finished second with four different first basemen, Harry Swacina, Alan Storke, Jim Kane and Warren Gill; none played more than 50 games, none hit better than .258 and they combined for 29 errors.

The man who took over in 1909, and was with the Pirates for their World Series victory, might have preferred to have never been given the job.

Bill Abstein had played eight games at second base and in the outfield for the Pirates in 1906, before returning to minors.

-Abstein had put up respectable, but by no means spectacular, numbers with the Shreveport Pirates in the Southern Association and Providence Grays in the Eastern League from 1906 to 1908—but as early as August of 1908 The Pittsburgh Press said he was the answer to the Pirates problem at first base:

“Fred Clarke is very eager to secure Bill Abstein from Providence.  Bill is rated the best first baseman in the Eastern League, and he would no doubt strengthen the Pirates where they are weak.”

When Abstein joined the Pirates before the 1909 season The Press said:

“The acquisition of bill Abstein has rounded our infield nicely.  He’s the best first baseman we have had in years and he certainly fits in nicely.”

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Abstein, Providence 1908

In a letter sent to Dreyfuss with his contract, Abstein told the Pirate owner:

“Fred Clarke will not have to worry about a first baseman after he sees this big German hustling around the bag.”

In keeping with his career performance, Abstein had a respectable season for the pirates.  He hit .260 and drove in 70 runs.  His 27 errors were only a slight improvement over 1908’s first baseman by committee.

The Pirates won 110 games and won the National League Pennant by six and half games over the Chicago Cubs and met the Detroit Tigers in the World Series.  The series would be the beginning of the end of Abstein’s Major League career.

09pirates

1909 World Champion Pittsburgh Pirates, Abstein 11th from left.

Abstein struggled at the plate (6 for 29 with nine strikeouts) and in the field (5 errors total, 2 each in games 3 and 4).  The Pirates won the series in seven games, but despite the victory, Abstein quickly became the subject of ridicule in Pittsburgh.

An Associated Press article after the series said:

“During the games with Detroit Abstein appeared to forget all that he knew about base ball.  He ran the bases foolishly, made a number of costly errors, failed to hit and disobeyed orders.  In fact, his playing was worse than that of any other man on either team.  The other Pirates, seeing that Abstein was the ‘goat’ for the combination, kept up the cry against him…Before the series was ended many of the Pirates shunned Abstein and it was reported he would be traded.”

The Pittsburgh Press was less generous:

“Bill Abstein denies he is a bonehead and says baseball is largely a case of ‘if-you-can-get-away-with-it,’ well it’s a cinch that Bill couldn’t in the National League.”

The Pirates were unable to trade Abstein and finally put him on waivers.  He was claimed by his hometown St. Louis Browns.

Even though the Pirates had actually won the Worlds Series and even though Abstein was gone, that didn’t mean the Pirates, and The Pittsburgh Press, wouldn’t continue to pile on.

Barney Dreyfuss told The Associated Press shortly after Abstein was claimed by St. Louis:

“We have discarded the weakest offensive player we had—Abstein—and hope to improve the team by doing so.”

Dreyfuss also claimed:

“Fred (Clarke) told me as early as last June that we should get someone else for Abstein’s place in 1910, as Bill mixed up the team’s plays too frequently.”

The Pittsburgh Leader said:

“(Abstein) had deplorable batting weaknesses which the opposing pitchers were certain to fathom in time.”

The Pittsburgh Press was even less generous:

“Bill Abstein is reported to be making a hit with the Browns by his work in the spring practice.  Just wait about three months friends, before declaring Bonehead Bill a wonder.”

When the Pirates sold pitcher Vic Willis the St. Louis Cardinals in February of 1910, newspapers reported that Willis and Abstein had “engaged in a bitter fight,” during the series.

Abstein quickly wore out his welcome in his own hometown of St. Louis.  Abstein made 11 errors in 23 games at first base and hit .149; he was released on June 2, 1910.  It appears Abstein was no more popular with Browns Manager Jack O’Connor than he was in Pittsburgh.  O’Connor was quoted in The St. Louis Times in May:

“How did Abstein get away with it last year?  How could he make plays like he has been making for me and get away with it all year for Pittsburgh?  I never dreamed that some of the plays made by him were even possible.”

His Major League career over, Abstein returned to the minor leagues for seven seasons.  He had one above average year with the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League in 1914; in 202 games he hit .308, with 234 hits and 40 doubles.

Abstein moved on, Pittsburgh apparently did not.  For years, Pittsburgh newspapers took every opportunity to take a shot at the first baseman.  In 1915 The Pittsburgh Press, in an article about the revolving door the Pirates still had at first base–in the five post-Abstein seasons, the Pirates had four different starting first baseman–(emphasis theirs):

“No one will ever forget the way Bill did NOT play the bag in the Worlds Series.  In fact, Bill did NOT play the bag all the time he was stationed there.”

Pittsburgh finally seemed to move on by the time they won their next world Championship in 1925.  Abstein died in St. Louis in 1940.

Larry McLean

8 Jan

At 6’ 5” John Bannerman “Larry” McLean is still the tallest catcher to have played in the Major Leagues nearly a century after his final game.  Born in New Brunswick, Canada, McLean’s ability was mostly overshadowed by his frequent off-field troubles during his career.

McLean bounced between the minor leagues, semi-pro teams, and trials with the Boston Americans, Chicago Cubs and Saint Louis Cardinals from 1901-1904.  McLean joined the Portland Beavers in the Pacific Coast League in 1905 and it was here that he developed into a good ballplayer and a first-rate baseball character.

Larry McLean

Larry McLean

McLean hit .285 in 182 games with Portland in 1905, but also started to show signs of the troubles that would plague him for the remainder of his career; Portland added a “temperance clause” to his contract and McLean, who had originally planned on a boxing career, loved to fight.

In 1906, while hitting .355 for Portland, and catching the eye of the Cincinnati Reds who would purchase his contract in August; McLean announced that he was going to become a professional fighter.

The wire report which ran in The Bakersfield Daily Californian said:

“McLean the giant catcher of the Portland team…He is so big that umpires walk out behind the pitcher so they judge balls and strikes…announces that he will fight any man in the world, Big Jeff (Jim Jeffries) not barred.”

The story said McLean was training with Tom Corbett (older brother of “Gentleman Jim” Corbett) and Corbett said he “has a ‘sure ‘nuff’ champion in the big catcher.”

Talk of a ring career temporarily ended when McLean joined the Reds, but McLean’s legend grew.  In November of 1906, he caught a murderer while in a subway station with his wife.  The Boston Post said the suspect:

“Was seen to pull a gun and pump five bullets (into the victim)…Larry started after him and collard him just outside the entrance.  (McLean had the suspect) pinioned so he could not move.  The police soon arrived and took charge of McLean’s prisoner.”

McLean was a huge hit with Havana fans the following winter when the Reds touring Cuba; The Sporting Life said:

“Larry McLean was the favorite and every time he caught a ball the crowd applauded. McLean has been dubbed by the baseball fans ‘Chiquito.’”

McLean and Chicago White Sox pitcher Frank Smith were mentioned at various times as possible opponents for heavyweight champion Jack Johnson; boxing writer Tommy Clark said in 1910 that McLean “Thinks he has a good chance of lowering Johnson’s colors.”

But while McLean was a fan favorite he regularly ran afoul of Cincinnati management and none of the managers he played for was able to keep him out of trouble.

While with the Reds McLean was arrested at least four times–for disorderly conduct, passing a bad check and two assaults.  In one case, at the Savoy Hotel in Cincinnati, McLean knocked a newspaper man from Toledo unconscious after the man “Reproved McLean for using a vile name.”

While serving a suspension for breaking team rules in 1910 McLean Said:

“When I get back to Cincinnati there will be 25,000 fans at the depot waiting to shake hands with me.”

Frank Bancroft, Reds secretary and former manager said in response:

“Twenty-five thousand, why, they’ve not that many barkeepers in Cincinnati”

McLean had worn out his welcome by 1910, but Cincinnati was not able to find any takers for the catcher.  Pittsburgh Pirates owner Barney Dreyfuss said, “I wouldn’t give 30 cents for Larry McLean.”

McLean stayed with the Reds for two more seasons, but when Joe Tinker took over the team one of his first moves was to sell McLean to the Saint Louis Cardinals in January of 1913.  McLean said he had finally learned his lesson and promised to behave with the Cardinals:

“They didn’t want me around because they said I was a bum. Now I’m going to fool Tinker.”

McLean did behave himself in Saint Louis and seemed to appreciate the opportunity he was given by his former Reds teammate, manager Miller Huggins, even earning a “good behavior” incentive in his contract, and was hitting .270 for the Cardinals, but the cash-strapped team went with the younger, cheaper Ivey Wingo behind the plate and traded McLean to the New York Giants for Pitcher Doc Crandall.

Larry McLean, standing end right, Miller Huggins, standing end left, and Frank Bancroft, standing middle (in suit) on the 1908 Cuban tour.

Larry McLean, standing 5th from left, Miller Huggins, standing end left, and Frank Bancroft, standing middle (in suit) on the 1908 Cuban tour.

The rest of the McLean story tomorrow.

Demon Rum–or Demon Rum as an Excuse to Replace a Popular Manager

8 Oct

The 2011 Boston Red Sox were only the latest in a long history of alcohol taking the blame for a team’s poor performance.

As the Chicago Cubs faded into third place during the waning days of the 1912 season, team president Charles Murphy issued an order for “total abstinence” and all players would have a temperance calls in future contracts.

The move was not unprecedented—since 1909 Barney Dreyfus of the Pittsburgh Pirates had required his players to sign a temperance pledge.  What made Murphy’s order so newsworthy was that over the course of several days he issued numerous, often contradictory, “clarifications” and because it quickly became apparent the move was a intended to wrest control of his ballclub from Manager Frank Chance.

Murphy’s original statement said that “loose living and training methods” led to the team’s poor finish. At the same time he provided cover for popular Cub outfielder Frank Schulte who had been suspended by Chance in September his nighttime activities during a crucial August road trip in Cincinnati.  The Cubs lost three of four games to the Reds and fell out of contention.    Murphy’s statement presented Schulte as a man incapable of any personal responsibility:

“I desire to say that in my judgment Schulte has been more sinned against than sinner…from what I could gather he was a victim of too many so-called friends…if we had a rule similar to that in vogue in Pittsburgh this player could not have been led into temptation.”

Chicago Cubs President Charles Murphy

The implication being that Chance had perhaps overreacted by suspending “the more sinned against” Schulte.  This statement was further complicated by Murphy’s several “clarifications,” some of which seemed to support Chance’s decision while some did not.

Chance quickly defended his players and his reaction to Murphy revealed just how bad the relationship was between the team president and his manager:

“Murphy only thinks of the team when it’s winning…his statement reflects upon me personally, and I have been in the business too long to allow Murphy or anyone else to insult me.”

Making matters worse, and calling Murphy’s motives into question was that Chance issued his response from a hospital bed in New York.  As a result of being hit in the head by numerous pitches throughout his career, Chance had developed a blood clot near his brain and had undergone surgery just a few days earlier.

Murphy didn’t hesitate to use Chance’s health issues against him.

A month earlier, plagued by doubts about his condition and suffering from severe headaches, Chance had suggested to Murphy that he might not be able to manage the Cubs in 1913.  At the time Murphy told his manager to wait until after the surgery to make a decision about his future.  Now he was using that conversation to assert that Chance had issued his resignation.

Once Murphy began claiming Chance had, in effect, quit in August the Chicago media which had almost universally supported the “abstinence pledge” called foul.  The Chicago Tribune and Chicago Examiner both said Murphy was using the conversation and the pledge as cover to run the legendary Chance—who led the Cubs to four pennants and two World Championships—out of town.

Chance went.  But he didn’t go quietly.

The manager had acquired 10 percent of the Cubs, shares Murphy had been trying to purchase for more than a year.  Chance sold the shares to Harry Ackerland a Pittsburgh investor who President Murphy did want owning part of his team.  Despite Murphy’s efforts to block the sale, it went through.

Chance was claimed on waivers by Cincinnati, but after the Reds acquired Joe Tinker from the Cubs and named him manager, Chance was waived to New York, where he became manager of the Yankees.

Chance led the Yankees for two losing seasons, managed the Los Angeles Angels in the Pacific Coast League in 1916 and ’17, and closed out his career with one dismal season in Boston; the Red Sox finished 61-91 under Chance.

Frank Chance

Johnny Evers was named Cubs manager for the 1913 season—the Cubs again finished third.

From the day Murphy issued his initial statement until Chance died in 1924, “The Peerless Leader” never missed an opportunity to take a shot at Murphy.

When the Cubs were sold to Cincinnati publishing magnate Charles Phelps Taft (President William Howard Taft’s half-brother) before the 1914 season Murphy claimed that he had made more than a half million dollars on the deal.  Chance and former Cubs pitcher Mordecai Brown (who had his own feud who Murphy who released him after the 1912 season, allegedly without giving Brown money he was owed for playing in that year’s “City Series” with the Chicago White Sox) quickly responded.  Both players confirmed what had long been rumored—that Murphy had been bankrolled by Taft who retained a majority of the shares.   Murphy, said Chance, “Never owned more than fifteen or twenty percent of the club stock.”

Both players also charged that Murphy’s treatment of his players was a primary reason for the formation of the upstart Federal League—at best an oversimplification of the conditions which led to Major League Baseball’s last “third league.”

Another Charles Murphy feud later this week.

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